The Day After I Stood Up David Bowie

I had to almost lose the interview of a lifetime to get it.

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The legend had multiple faces. (Photo: davidbowie.com)

Over my nearly three decades as a professional journalist, I’ve interviewed an abundance of talented musical artists, many of whom are instantly identifiable by just one word: Babyface, Britney, Cher, Cyndi, Dolly, Enrique, Enya, Gwen, Mariah, Mary, Pink, Sting, Bowie.

My all-time favorite? Well, let’s just say I saved the best for last.

Anyone who’s met me in person probably has heard my David Bowie story. If I could put one irrelevant fact on my tombstone — which I probably won’t have since I’m going to be cremated — it would be this one: I interviewed Bowie … twice!

During the 1970s, well before I first head of him — via “Under Pressure,” his 1981 duet with Queen — Bowie (aka Ziggy Stardust, aka The Thin White Duke) already had established himself as the ultimate chameleonic rocker. He was the man who fell to earth and inspired generations of future shape-shifting music stars, from Madonna to Lady Gaga.

He never sold as many records as contemporaries like Elton John, Eric Clapton, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and Rod Stewart, or enjoyed as many hit singles in the U.S., but he left just as large and indelible an imprint. If anyone ever decides to make a Bowie biopic, it probably will give Bohemian Rhapsody a run for its box-office money.

The first time Bowie and I talked, it was over the phone. As lovely as that brief chat was, the second interview, which unfolded face to face, ended up being the one that would make him my all-time favorite interview subject.

My infamous Bowie story began two nights before we actually met, with a Kir Royale in New York City. Make that about 10 of them and maybe a few shots of something fruity thrown in. Year: 1997. Place: Flamingo East in the Village.

Back then, working all day (I was a People magazine reporter), drinking all night, and getting up at 8am to start the cycle all over again wasn’t so uncommon, or hard, for me to do.

I was only 27, and Wednesday nights at Flamingo East weren’t to be missed. I didn’t have to work on Thursday, and my sit-down with David Bowie wasn’t until noon. I’d have plenty of time to recuperate in the morning.

Too many drinks, too little time

I can’t account for anything that happened after 1am. One minute I was at the bar with my best friend Dave, ordering another round, the next, I was waking up in bed, a not-so-beautiful mess.

What time was it? 11am?! I had exactly one hour to pull myself together and drag myself from my apartment on West 34th Street to Midtown for my interview with Bowie.

I got into the shower, turned on the water, and let it rain all over me. This isn’t working, I thought. Who was I kidding? I was still drunk. I could barely put together a coherent sentence in my head, much less interview a musical icon for People. So I dried off, pulled myself together, and called his publicist.

“Hi. This is Jeremy Helligar from People magazine. I’m really sorry, but I’m very sick with a stomach virus. I thought I’d be able to make it to the interview today anyway, but I’m too ill. The last thing I want to do is make David Bowie sick. Is there any way we can reschedule the interview? I can even do a phoner, if that’s okay.”

The last thing I want to do is make David Bowie sick. Is there any way we can reschedule?

Since I’d interviewed him over the phone in 1995 for another People story a few months after the release of his Outside album, I figured Earthling could get the same treatment. Looking back, I can’t believe how unprofessional I was being — or how understanding his publicist was. After expressing genuine concern for my physical health, she insisted that the interview be in person.

“I think you and David would really get along great, so I’d love for you to meet in person,” she said. “Can you come by the studio tomorrow morning.”

Is Major Tom still lost in space?

That night, needless to say, I didn’t drink anything stronger than water. The next morning I showed up at the recording studio at the appointed time, 10am, ready to bond with Bowie. Ever the gentleman, he didn’t keep me waiting. He approached me, hand outstretched, a twinkle in his blue eye. (Yes, the other one really was gray!)

“I like your jumper,” he said. We were off to a great start.

And then… “So I hear you were sick yesterday.” He winked mischievously, letting me know he knew exactly what I’d been up to the night before our aborted interview.

I must have looked too healthy in my charcoal gray sweater, certainly not like a guy who’d been knock-knock-knocking on death’s door less than 24 hours earlier. I was relieved that he didn’t seem to mind.

In fact, I think my subterfuge might have been a built-in ice-breaker. Hadn’t Bowie helped invent the phrase “party like a rock star”? Obviously, he still had his priorities in the correct order.

Effortlessly cool

During our 30-minute chat, Bowie was everything a reporter would want an interview subject and rock & roll idol to be: friendly, funny, smart, and charming, so much nicer than that sullen Thom Yorke, whom I’d met backstage after a Radiohead concert in New York City two years earlier (an encounter documented for posterity in an October 1995 Alternative Press cover story).

Even offstage, with not a camera in sight, Bowie could make a cigarette look like the coolest prop. I decided right then that I wanted to be him when I grew up.

I was disappointed when he told me he would one day publish a memoir, but he’d insist on being the one to write it. No “ghost" author necessary, which crushed me, as I’d long considered myself the best person for that particular job.

Among his more shocking revelations during our second interview: Scary Monsters and his Tin Machine projects aside, he did all of his ’80s albums strictly for the money. Yes, that includes 1983’s Let’s Dance, his greatest commercial triumph.

I’m not sure if he ever got around to starting it before he died in 2016, but that’s just one more reason to mourn that he was taken from us way too soon. Considering how hands-on and exacting Bowie was when it came to his art (with some significant ’80s exceptions — read on), it shouldn’t have been surprising that he’d want writing his tell-all to be a completely hands-on experience.

Among his more shocking revelations during our second interview: Scary Monsters and his Tin Machine projects aside, he did all of his ’80s albums strictly for the money. Yes, that includes 1983’s Let’s Dance, his greatest commercial triumph.

It was a surprising revelation because I never would have guessed it during the ’80s. Although time hasn’t been so kind to 1984’s Tonight and 1987’s Never Let Me Down (a decent album that deserves better than it gets these days), Bowie always looked engaged as hell while performing his ’80s hits live, and his videos during this era are as artistic and engaging as anything he’s ever done.

Perhaps it’s a testament to his enormous talent, that even when he was slumming, he still managed to create something remarkable. He made no exceptions and no excuses to me, though.

By the time of our interview, his commercial fortunes had been falling for a decade. Still, he clearly was more proud of what he was doing in the ’90s than the ’80s music for which he’s best remembered by his mainstream fans.

The final shocker wasn’t about his ouevre. It was what he said about our previous interview, which we’d done during the 1995 holiday season. He actually remembered it!

He even recalled his final words to me as he passed by a department store whose halls were decked out in the spirit of the season: “Shall I say ‘Hello’ to Santa for you?”

I’ve never believed in Santa, but I couldn’t say no to Bowie.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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